Messi’s Little Helpers – Neymar & Alexis Sanchez

Neymar, Alexis Sanchez

There’s no real doubt about the fact that Lionel Messi is the king of FC Barcelona, but even he can’t do it on his own. This season has started well for him, but injuries have gotten somewhat in the way, while he didn’t score at all in the first Clasico of the season. Luckily, the club’s scoring problems when he’s not firing might be on their way to being solved due to the prolific Neymar and Alexis Sanchez.

If anyone expected Neymar to arrive at Barcelona and start scoring more than a goal per game just like Messi or close to his numbers during his Santos days, they were tripping under some very strong substances. Neymar is a very gifted scorer, even if he doesn’t play in a central position. However, it was quite clear from day 1 that this isn’t his team just yet, and probably won’t be as long as Messi is his teammate.

Not that it seems to be problematic for Neymar. He needed some time to adjust to a slightly different role from Brazil and Santos. He’s more of a pure winger for Barcelona with more defensive and pressure assignments than he does have for the national team, but over the last two months he has progressed from being rather static and providing balls to Messi into a more active and dominant player, bursting again and again through the wing after quick 1-2’s into the middle.

He has scored two of Barcelona’s most important goals this season: The header against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, giving Barcelona the Super Cup on away goals, and his opener against Real Madrid in the Clasico. He already has 4 goals and 7 assists for Barcelona in all competition, and he’ll probably get more and more involved in the near future.

The bigger surprise might be Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean had a strong debut season for Barcelona in 2011-2012, but regressed last year, finding it quite frustrating to switch wings and sharing the position with Pedro and David Villa. He did manage to score some goals in the garbage time of the season, but many speculated that he might be one of the first to leave the club before the 2013-2014 season due to Neymar’s arrival.

So far this year it’s been completely different. He has scored five goals and has added three assists so far in the league, including that beautiful chip against Real Madrid. He’s playing in a more central role as Messi either shifts right or simply doesn’t play, and seems to have become more than just a hard worker again, using his upper body strength and speed to claim back his important place in the team’s rotation.